Wednesday 6 October 2010

CBR2 Book 86: "Bayou Moon" by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace Books
Page count: 480 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: September 28th, 2010
Date finished: September 29th, 2010

William Sandine is a changeling, raised in the Weird, a magical world where the geography in some ways mirrors our world, but things are very different and they have magic rather than technology. Being a changeling means he turns into an animal, in his case, a wolf. He is not a were-wolf, as such, he can't turn other people into shapeshifters by biting them, his changes are in no way controlled by the full moon, but the condition is hereditary. Having been raised a special ops soldier and an outsider, William has very few ties in the world. He is living in a trailer in the Edge, a semi-magical area in between the Weird and the Broken (basically our mundane world, where there is technology but no magic), collecting plastic action figures and working construction in the Broken.

He is contacted by what is basically the Weird-version of the CIA, and asked to go on a secret spy mission in a massive swamp area of the Edge known as the Mire. A crazy enemy spy master known as Spider, and his band of mutated agents are trying to get a special weapon, which would be disastrous for the Kingdom of Adrianglia. Since Spider hates changelings, and has a history with William, the Mirror are pretty sure he won't refuse the chance to get revenge and stop Spider once and for all. They're not wrong. William accepts the mission, and goes into the Mire, where he meets a young, seemingly homeless woman he has to make a deal with to get to his arranged meeting place.

The woman William affectionately names Queen of the Hobos, is in fact a young Mire noble named Cerise Mar. Her family has huge numbers and lots of land, but are very poor. The Mar family is in a feud with a neighbouring family, who has taken over one of their houses. Cerise's parents have gone missing, and that leaves her the head of the family. She needs to prove to the local authorities that her father didn't sell the house before he disappeared, and get the rivaling clan evicted. Then she has to locate her parents. She agrees to guide the strange Weird noble to make some extra cash, but had not expected to have to fight for her life to get them to their destination.

It soon becomes clear that Spider has kidnapped Cerise's parents, and tries to torture them to find the location of the hidden weapon William is also there to find. Spider wants to know why Cerise left the Mire so suddenly after her parents' disappearance, and figures he can also use her as leverage against her parents. When William realizes that Spider's mutant goons are after Cerise, he becomes even more determined to stay at her side, and the more time he spends with her, the more remarkable he discovers that she is.

Bayou Moon is the follow-up to Ilona and Gordon Andrews' On the Edge (they write all their novels under her name), but can be read completely independently, and works as a stand-alone novel. On the Edge is probably Andrews' best novel to date, it is certainly the one I love the most, and considering I adore ALL their books, that is great praise indeed. That one is completely self-contained, by the time they wrote Bayou Moon, they knew they had a series on their hands. As such, this one has a bit more of an open ending, but no edge of your seat cliffhanger that makes you curse the authors and tear your hair in frustration until the sequel comes out. Another thing that makes it obvious that the authors knew they were now writing a series, is the multiple story lines in Bayou Moon. There are a whole load of characters introduced, some not so very vital to the main plot, who I suspect will become protagonists in later stories.

William Wolf, as he is often called, first appeared in On the Edge, but everything you found out about him in that book is repeated here for new readers. He has always been a loner, born in a society that doesn't really accept changelings, abandoned by his mother shortly after birth, raised in a orphanage and trained from an early age to become a soldier and a killer. He feels that love and a family will always be denied him, and is therefore very conflicted when he meets Cerise and realizes that she is not repulsed or scared by him. He hides his true nature from her for a long time, afraid that he will lose her, but desperately wants a relationship with her.

Cerise has more family than she knows what to do with. A multitude of relatives, hardly any money, and heavy responsibilities on her shoulders. She has helped her father run the family finances for years, and when her parents suddenly disappear, she has to take the reins of the whole clan, and try to steer them right, in the midst of what looks like a very likely to be bloody family feud. She has also been trained to be the family fighter, and is not very amused when William assumes she needs protection, and can't take care of herself. As well as a brilliant manager, Cerise is a fierce fighter, and shows that she can cut freaky mutants in half with one sword thrust.

On the Edge is primarily the romance between Declan and Rose, with a secondary storyline about danger threatening the Edge and the surrounding world that needs to be stopped. In Bayou Moon, which I had been hoping would be the same, only with William and Cerise as protagonists, there are a bit too many story lines. There's a lot of time spent introducing Cerise's many colourful relatives and their various quirks, and there's the feud with the neighbouring family, and the spy subplot with Spider and his nefarious plans. The book has not one, but two climaxes, first the Mars have to fight their neighbours, and then they all have to take on Spider and his band of mutant spies to reclaim the mysterious and dangerous weapon, and free Cerise's parents.

Too many stories to keep track of splits the focus of the book, and makes it a less satisfying read. It's a shame, because I think Ilona and Gordon were trying for something more advanced and sophisticated with Bayou Moon, and I don't entirely think it worked. I did not in any way dislike the book, but I don't love it as much as I wanted to, and it did not live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations. I will still eagerly anticipate every new book written by the couple, though, and I am huge fans of their blog.

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